Well here we are, finding ourselves on the cusp of yet another Lent. Mardi Gras, they call it, meaning “Fat Tuesday” in French. In its historical context, it signified a day of feasting prior to a period of fasting – Lent. Unfortunately, in today’s culture it means little other than an excuse for debauchery and drunkenness, followed by no fasting. In fact, I just saw an article that says there are plans in Brazil to pass out 3 million condoms for “Carnival”. Really?? Sounds like they should call it carnivore-al instead! What a mixed up world.
Our Lady of Fatima said that more souls go to hell for sins of the flesh than for any other sins – at that was in 1917!! When I hear things like that being said 100 years ago, I think, “What chance do we have in the mess we live in today?” God help us!
Indeed that is the answer. Only God can help us.
The daily Mass readings since last Monday have been from the Letter of James. James is one of the most pragmatic letters of the Bible. If you’ve never read it, I strongly encourage you to make it part of your Lenten journey this year. Today’s reading speaks boldly of the problem and the remedy for our times:
Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?
You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.
You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly,
to spend it on your passions.
Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God?
Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world
makes himself an enemy of God.
Or do you suppose that the Scripture speaks without meaning when it says,
The spirit that he has made to dwell in us tends toward jealousy?
But he bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says:
God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.
So submit yourselves to God.
Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners,
and purify your hearts, you of two minds.
Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep.
Let your laughter be turned into mourning
and your joy into dejection.
Humble yourselves before the Lord
and he will exalt you. (Jas 4:1-10)
God gave us our bodies to show His love – to make the invisible visible. Think of it for a minute….if we’re made in the image and likeness of God, and God is spirit (Jn 4:24), then why did He give us a body? He created the angels as pure spirit, yet He embodied our spirits. Why? Because our bodies are meant to glorify God; they are to make manifest in a visible way the invisible love of God.
Yet we seem to always be at war with our bodies, “For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.” (Gal 5:17) Obviously, Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations are extreme examples of this war, but we see it in every day life. Galatians continues, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.” (Gal 5:19-21) From the most minor of offenses to the most major, we can probably fill in something we’ve done or said or thought in the past hour or so that goes against the love of God.
James gives us the answer in verse 7, “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” When you feel your anger rising up in the near occasion of sin, or gluttony, or jealousy, or covetousness, or fill-in-the-blank, “Submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Believe me, this really works! I have literally said, “I submit to you, God. I resist the devil, and he will flee from me.” Then the ol’ boy takes a hike.
So as you move forward in anticipation of your Lenten journey, take this weapon with you and pull it out when you need it.
As for the revelers on this day before Lent, let us pray for an outpouring of the virtue of purity on them, on all those in the world, on our country, on those we love and in our own lives.
Prayer for Purity
Jesus, Lover of chastity, Mary, Mother most pure, and Joseph, chaste guardian of the Virgin, to you I come at this hour, begging you to plead with God for me. I earnestly wish to be pure in thought, word and deed in imitation of your own holy purity.
Obtain for me, then, a deep sense of modesty which will be reflected in my external conduct. Protect my eyes, the windows of my soul, from anything that might dim the luster of a heart that must mirror only Christlike purity.
And when the “Bread of Angels becomes the Bread of me” in my heart at Holy Communion, seal it forever against the suggestions of sinful pleasures.
Heart of Jesus, Fount of all purity, have mercy on us.
O, Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee! Anne
PS: Here’s a little secret I learned from Scott Hahn at a lecture he gave. When his kids were fighting, he would use Jas 4:1 to make them stop. I’ve done it with my kids, and it’s pretty amazing. When they’d fight, I would ask them, “Where do the fights and quarrels from among you come?” Then I would make them answer (as in repeatedly ask until they answered, because they’d rarely answer right away), which was usually in a low, begrudging tone, “From our own selfishness.” I’d make them repeat it if it wasn’t loud enough, or until I was satisfied with their response. It usually stopped the fighting in its tracks. Remember, this is the Word of God, and Isaiah tells us, “The Word of God never returns void, but returns having accomplished the purpose for which it was sent.” (Is 55:11) For those of you with kids at home, I encourage you to bring this up at your dinner table, and start a bit of a culture change at home. Print out the verse and hang it in a prominent place and use over Lent to springboard their fight against the flesh. (It helps us in our own selfish responses, too!)
PPS: Following on to the question of, “Why did God give us a body?” lies the question, “And why did He make us male and female?” For deeper answers to those questions, learn about the Theology of the Body.